Rosogolla! Rasagola! Rasgulla! Whatever it’s spelling or pronunciation might be, this syrupy milk based dessert can certainly make your mouth water and every bite of it can take you straight to instant heaven. But, do you know where this dessert first originated?
I had always thought that it had its roots in West Bengal, but apparently it has its roots in Odisha in Puri Jagannath temple and then a small village called Pahala that is located somewhere between Cuttack and the capital city of Bhubaneshwar. West Bengal is fighting this claim, but that is not the point here as both of them look and taste very different. While the West Bengal ones are smaller and white in colour, the Rasgullas from Odisha are light brown in colour and slightly bigger in size. Even the texture and juice is a bit different. So, in principle, we can consider both of them as separate desserts/sweets.
We all now the importance of Puri Jagannath temple on the pilgrimage route. It is one of the 4 dhams and its significance is food. The 56 blog or chappan bhog has legendary status in Puri’s Jagannath temple and people from all over come to get a piece of it. While the chappan bhog is offered to Lord Jagannath, Balram and Subadhra, the Rasgulla has been traditionally offered as bhog to goddess Lakshmi at the Jagannath temple. There is documented evidence of this tradition since the 12th century, but like the Puri Jagannath temple, no one knows the exact age of this Rasgulla tradition.
Now, there are two essential stories that one has to know to understand this ancient tradition. First, there is a legend surrounding the Jagannath temple. Apparently, Lord Jagannath goes on a 9 day Rath Yatra without telling goddess Lakshmi and this makes her extremely angry. She locks one of the temple gates and prevents Lord Jagannath and his convoy from entering the garbha griha. To appease Lakshmi’s anger, Lord Jagannath offers her Rasgullas. This ritual, known as Bachinaka, is part of Niladri Bije observance, which marks the return of the gods to the temple after the Rath Yatra.
The second story is folklore. There is a village called Pahala located on the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar that was home to a lot of cows and that produced a lot of milk. The villagers did not know what to do with the extra milk and used to throw it when it got spoilt. One day, a priest from the Puri Jagannath temple saw this milk wastage with shock and to ensure that such practice of waste did not continue, he taught the villagers the art of curdling the milk and gave them the recipe of the Puri Jagannath temple Rasgulla. The villagers of Pahala took this new learning with gusto and ended up becoming one of the leading market for Chhena based sweets in the state. Some even say this village sends their produce to Puri Jagannath temple every day. No one knows the exact history of this practice, but it looks like it has been going on for many hundreds of years.
Today, Pahala is one of the famous locations for the Rasgulla, Chhena Poda and Chhena Gaja, all of them being chhena based sweets. It is also one of the largest manufacturing hubs of the Rasgulla in the state of Odisha. There could be many locations elsewhere in Odisha where you can get better quality and taste, but if you want to experience tradition, you have to visit Pahala and try out a Rasgulla and Chhenna poda, which is considered to be the iconic dessert of Odisha.
And in case you are wondering about the Rosogola of West Bengal, it is indeed different from the one made and consumed in Odisha, but it was brought to West Bengal and Bengali families in Odisha through Odia cooks and it then went on to re-innovate itself under the able guidance of Nobin Chandra Das, a Kolkata based confectioner. Now, that the history bit is all clear, lets get to matter at hand and relish these amazing desserts. An absolute must experience on your next holiday to Odisha or a trip to Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack or Puri.
By Sankara Subramanian
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